According to a 2017 poll conducted by the Morning Consult, 50% of Americans don’t know Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and many don’t know the U.S. had any territories at all. But America currently controls five inhabited territories and 11 uninhabited ones. Most of these islands are strategically captured for protection during wartime, as well as for weapons testing. The beautiful islands and atolls will captivate you, while the harrowing wartime stories will break your heart: Here are the stories of the U.S. territories.

Puerto Rico

By far the largest U.S. territory, the humble island of Puerto Rico boasts a population of almost 3.5 million people. Should Puerto Rico become a state, it would be the 29th largest one. For example, it has a larger economy and a greater population than the state of Arkansas. It was once seen as an island of citizens, proud of their own culture and unwilling to compromise its sanctity. But now, younger generations of Puerto Ricans are starting to view themselves more and more as Americans. In a June 2017 polling, 97% of those who cast their ballot showed their support for eventual statehood, hoping to finally be guaranteed the voting rights formerly denied to them. Fortunately, Puerto Ricans know the perfect way to forget most of their problems.

Follow The Blue Brick Road…

The colorful communities of San Juan lead you into another world. PR is the home of five Miss Universe winners and the iconic Bacardi and Don Q rum brands. Puerto Rico may just be able to out-party both Miami and Las Vegas. With a culture deeply rooted with Latin influences, fiestas that include salsa dancing with couples and strangers alike are not hard to find.

Puerto Rico might just be the spot for tourists looking for a relatively cheap and exciting island getaway. They have some of the best alcohol, street food, beaches, and carefree atmospheres in the world. Such is to be expected of the home of the piña colada and of some of the most beautiful women in the world. Not into those things? See what else they have next.

Brainy and Boozy?

Just don’t let Puerto’s excellence in all things partying distract you from one of the most impressive scientific structures in the world. The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, completed in 1963, was the largest radio telescope in the world until July 2016. Today, the telescope remains in use, monitored constantly by an international team of scientists that tag and track asteroids on possible collision courses with the Earth.

In the past, this historic site was the location of one of the first attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial life in 1974. The Arecibo Message that scientists shot 25,000 light years away consisted of a pixelated image of numbers, stick figures, chemical formulas, and a depiction of the telescope itself. We’re still not sure if it’s good news or not that there hasn’t been a reply yet…

Guam

Guam has been a U.S. territory since 1898. This small strategic island in the Eastern Pacific has seen more than its fair share of war. Control of the island has switched sides often in history. Guam has experienced a change in control in the wake of natural disaster, disease epidemics, and war. America liberated the island from Japanese occupation during World War II. This later proved invaluable to marines and airmen as a primary base of operations. To this day, 15% of the more than 160,000 living on the island are affiliated with the United States military, oftentimes raising questions on the treatment of locals by servicemen stationed there.

One Soldier Never Surrendered, Lived

In the aftermath of the vicious Pacific Theater campaigns of WW II, Guam was left in relative peace. However, for one Japanese solider, his fight didn’t end until almost 28 years after the Allies had already formally won. Shoichi Yokoi, a sergeant in the Imperial Japanese Army, managed to survive on the island completely isolated from human contact through hunting and scavenging at night. When he finally returned to Japan in 1972 after being discovered by two villagers, he reiterated his sense of duty to his late emperor and the dedication that fueled his will to survive in a series of interviews with an incredulous press. The caves he once inhabited are now memorialized and preserved as a tourist attraction and monument.

But estranged soldiers haven’t been the only strange visitors to the island…

Is Guam An Alien Attraction?

Maybe it’s the warm climate and tropical waters, but it seems as if several of our intergalactic friends enjoy this military island as well. On New Year’s Day in 1957, First Lt. Ted Brunson reported and gave chase to a white light that materialized under his aircraft. This happened while he was flying the F-86 Sabre, one of the fastest planes of its time. Reportedly, the light he identified toyed with him as it danced up, down, and all around his jet before he turned back. While normal civilian testimonies are usually best taken with a grain of salt, these trained pilots are owed a little bit more credibility. False reports run the risk of termination, yet 701 separate sightings have all been reported to the Air Force by extremely capable and experienced pilots.

Johnston Atoll

If aliens ever try to do more than just sight-see, this small coral island might just be one of our only hopes. This island is off-limits to the public and was controlled by the U.S. military for 70 years from 1934 to 2004. Its remote location automatically qualified it to become one of the earliest top-secret testing sites for military experiments. Among them included the 13 year long Program 437. The program was designed to modify a ballistic missile into an ASAT weapon – an operational anti-satellite system. Due to the fact that space warfare simply didn’t seem to be a feasible investment over the Apollo missions, the missiles were eventually mothballed. In due time, we may just need them again.

Unspeakable Human Experiments During Wartime

In addition to its long resume of military operations, Johnston Atoll was ground zero for the Project 112 biological warfare tests. While biological weapons testing weren’t exactly radical during the Cold War, who the USA chose to employ certainly were. As part of an agreement with Japan during WW II treaty negotiations, many Japanese scientists that had performed gruesome human experiments were spared punishment in exchange for the data they had accumulated. The wartime methods used by scientists during this time were unspeakable. It’s also known that several of them worked under the discretion of the US Military far through the 1960s as well.

Johnston Atoll Is Where Agent Orange Is Disposed

Despite its innocuous name, Agent Orange is among the deadliest chemicals to have been employed by the United States in warfare. During the war, airplanes and bombers sprayed nearly 20,000,000 gallons of this herbicide onto Vietnam in order to destroy the forest cover. Four million Vietnamese and American civilians and soldiers exposed to Agent Orange have reported illness including nerve damage, cancer, and monstrous birth defects. With such grim reports, the military what they thought was best, and that was to store the rusting, leaking barrels of Agent Orange on Johnston Atoll. Sadly, to this day, mutated marine animals surrounding the pristine coral reefs are far more prevalent at Johnston Atoll than anywhere else.

Northern Mariana Islands

The culture of the Northern Mariana Islands is just as varied as its background implies. Once occupied by the Spanish, then the Germans, Japanese, and finally controlled as a U.S. territory, these islands have slowly created a completely unique culture in their region. The island of the indigenous Chamorro people are extremely religious, with most identifying as Catholic in accordance to their Spanish heritage. The cuisine is varied between savory Spanish empanadas, Filipino pancit noodles, and the all-too-American Spam. But as you dig deeper into the island’s culture, there are aspects that not only have driven deceit, but human rights abuse as well.

Sweatshop Accusations On Mariana Islands

The Islands as a territory are subject to separate lower federal minimum wages and are wholly exempt from American labor laws and workers’ protections. Yet, any products they manufacture under third-world conditions are still legally allowed to be labelled as “Made in America.” Brands such as Levi’s and The Gap hoping to cash in on the positive connotations of American-made goods have contributed to a massive human rights problem right under Congress’s nose. Nearly half of the islands’ population are foreign workers from the Philippines and China, most of whom were deceived by promises of a better life and forced into staying under squalid conditions. Forced abortions, child labor and prostitution have been reported in their sweatshops.

The American Virgin Islands

Sadly, during the colonial period, many of the natives of the Virgin Islands died due to foreign disease, mass extermination, and enslavement by European colonists. The colonists adopted slavery to manage the sugar and tobacco plantations, and the descendants of the slaves make up the majority of the population today.

Between 1916-1917 the U.S. purchased the islands from Denmark, which were known as the Danish West Indies. The U.S. paid $25 million in gold for Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, located east of the main island of Puerto Rico.The beautiful islands depend on tourism and agriculture for their economy, and the largest employer is the government.

Midway Atoll

True to its name, the Midway Atoll lies between North America and Asia. While it doesn’t have a formal government acting on its behalf, the island’s resources and operations have always been overseen historically by the military and currently by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The Atoll itself consists of two main islands, Sand Island and Eastern Island, with sandbars that create a deep water harbor that was used to protect the American naval fleet. Nowadays, the military barracks are occupied by scientists, studying the effects of plastic pollution and the relationship between ocean current changes and mass seal population deaths. Nonetheless, the massive shipwrecks that lie near the shores of Midway points to a past of violence rather than research.

Turning Point

Midway was the second-most important naval base to the United States during World War II, behind only Pearl Harbor. As tensions rose, the atoll was fully refurbished to become the spearhead and command center for future naval operations. Due to its fortifications, Midway repelled the initial Japanese assaults. Later on, in 1942, the pivotal Battle of Midway resulted in four sunken Japanese carriers compared the U.S.’s one, a loss that crippled Japan and opened the way for the U.S. Marines to liberate the Pacific. However, none of the battleships or bombs used there can hold a candle to the sheer destructive force these next islands witnessed…

The Marshall Islands

The Marshall islands rose from ancient submerged volcanoes and consist of 29 atolls and five islands. The largest atoll it six square miles. In essence, the U.S. Military has free reign of the islands while the islanders receive all the benefits of Social Security, free defense forces, and governmental aid. As a small island nation with a small GDP and few higher education opportunities, they rely heavily upon the United States, especially for radiation research due to the islands’ past. In 2016, The United Nations estimated the population to be around 53,000.

Bikini Atoll

You might not know it, but the iconic American bikini owes its name to perhaps the most famous of the Marshall Islands: Bikini Atoll. Louis Réard, the designer of the bikini, likened the bikini’s media explosiveness to the nuclear bomb tests being conducted at Bikini Atoll. Here, 23 bombs were detonated, each one trying to improve upon the lethality of the last. UNESCO has since deemed the atoll as a World Heritage Site, determining that the island represents the dawn of the nuclear age despite “its paradoxical image of peace and of earthly paradise.” But when the bombs dropped, paradise would be the farthest from the truth.

Castle Bravo Causes Population To Be Sick And Infertile

Prior to the detonation of Castle Bravo, the strongest nuclear weapon ever developed by the USA, locals on the island were given little to no warning beforehand. One native of the islands, Almira Matayoshi, was interviewed about her experience of Bravo in 1981. She described yellowish powder that covered everyone. “People began to get very weak and began to vomit… at that time I wanted to die… our bodies ached and our feet were covered with burns and our hair fell out.” Those who survived the initial blast and the immediate fallout later would face the fact that many became infertile or they simply had no chance to raise a child without genetic defects. The order to evacuate came only three days later, only given in order for American scientists to study the radiation’s effects on the native population.

The Recovery And Resettling Of The Islands

In 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency recommended that Bikini Island and its surrounding regions not be permanently resettled. Since then, the potential to make the island inhabitable again has risen considerably. A 2012 report from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that radioactive isotope levels were dropping faster than expected. Marine life diversity has also bounced back to almost pre-nuclear health. However, the rising problem nowadays is the cultural disconnect. Most of the young descendants of former natives have never set foot in the Marshall Islands. Most have emigrated to the United States to seek more opportunities, and they see little incentive in coming back.

American Samoa

American Samoa is renowned for their world-class athletes in sports, mainly football and rugby. Hundreds of Samoans have played for the world-class New Zealand All Blacks national team, which has been consistently ranked No. 1 in the world for almost 8 years straight. With a large emphasis unto masculinity and strength, it should come as no surprise that American Samoa is quite patriarchal. However, many underestimate the extent to which it affects their politics. While anyone can run to represent Samoa in Congress, few do so without the help of the village chiefs, known as ‘matais’. These men virtually control the local government from top to bottom, leading to accusations of female vote suppression and corruption.

Fa’afafine: The Third Gender In Samoa

In sharp contrast to their archaic gender roles, Samoa’s attitude towards sex and gender only become even more confusing with the existence of the Fa’afafine. The Fa’afafine have been accepted in Samoa as a third gender since at least the early 20th century. Sex-wise, they are male at birth, but commonly exhibit both masculine and feminine behaviorism and characteristics. In Samoa, parents enforce gender roles and expectations far less compared to most Western societies. Instead, the culture values dedication to family and hard work.
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